Monthly, my family calls from Vietnamto inform us about the dead.Their voices amplified through the speakerphonewhile my mother sits upright in her bed& performs a variety of mundane tasks:sewing, word finds, removing nail polish.Of course I want to assume things:dead body, dead butter-yellow lawn—If I try hard enough, I can gathereach story, like marbles, into my mouthspit them into the drain & watch as hair climbs out.Every month, a new body washes upin conversation:a great aunt, a dog, a cousin or two, but nowit’s my father’s first wife.Four-days-dead in her bathroommy uncle says — she lived alone, abandoned years earlier, by her husband. Buried in a backyard somewhere in that roadside village the woman he left in Vietnam to come to America he promised he’d return for her & their two sons but instead married my mother.— well, she was found dead.Four-days-dead, in a bathroommy father once built for her.Buried in my uncle’s backyard.Had to kill the dog too.It kept trying to dig her out.Either anyone can be forgottenor only the forgotten can bringforth a good haunting, spanningthe chasm of the living, above whicha bridge made of ghosts, full of ghostswaiting to be summoned through the receiverone by one by one by dead one.I can see them all gatheringin the pixelated air. A patch of lightruptured by dust. I know my motherwill make a great ghost one day.They love her, the ghosts. They watch herall the time. She knows this, but she just sits thereunbothered, biting the seam of a white dressuntil it splits.
Copyright © 2019 by Hieu Minh Nguyen
First published in The Massachusetts Review.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Hieu Minh Nguyen is a queer Vietnamese American poet and performer based in Minneapolis. Recipient of a 2017 NEA fellowship, he is a Kundiman Fellow and a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine. His work has appeared in PBS Newshour, Poetry, Gulf Coast, BuzzFeed, and more. His debut collection, This Way to the Sugar, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and the MN Book Award. His second, Not Here, was released by Coffee House Press in 2018.
Founded in 1959 by a group of professors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, The Massachusetts Review is one of the nation’s leading literary magazines, distinctive in joining the highest level of artistic concern with pressing public issues. As The New York Times observed, “It is amazing that so much significant writing on race and culture appears in one magazine.” MR was named one of the top ten literary journals in 2008 by the Boston Globe.
A 200-page quarterly of fiction, poetry, essays, and the visual arts by both emerging talents and established authors, including Pulitzer and Nobel prizewinners, special issues have covered women’s rights, civil rights, and Caribbean, Canadian, and Latin American literatures.